(b. 1643, Made, d. 1706, Den Haag)

Girl Eating an Apple

Oil on panel, 32,2 x 24,8 cm
Staatliches Museum, Schwerin

Godfried Schalcken studied with Gerard Dou in Leiden. This was around 1660, the period when Dou was concentrating on painting nocturnal scenes. These paintings, lit with scant candlelight, were universally praised; the representation of a light source and its associated reflections was regarded as a great artistic feat. The young Schalcken accepted the challenge and elected to specialise in scenes illuminated by candlelight, achieving an unequalled standard in this singular genre in a remarkable short space of time.

This painting is a fine example of Schalcken's candlelit works. The subject is a mundane, domestic one: a girl, seated at a table, puts a piece of apple into her mouth. The scene is lit only by the flame of a candle. With extraordinary effectiveness Schalcken captured the phenomenon of the candlelight, with just a few reflections of the orange glow. Admirers wondered how the artist managed to pull off this feat. In the 18th century, an Englishman actually suggested that Schalcken had installed an enclosed cabin in his studio, lit only by a burning candle, where his model would sit. The painter was then said to have looked in through a peephole to paint the dimly lit scene.

Schalcken's painting is not so minutely detailed as his teacher's. This is evident from the rendering of the Turkish carpet in the foreground. Dou would have painted it down to the tiniest detail, but Schalcken depicted it in small, powerful strokes in bright red, blue and yellow. The illusion of real knotted wool is in no way diminished by this - Schalcken's imitation of reality is at least as convincing as that of his illustrious predecessor.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.